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KIPP Students Connect D.C. Lessons

From guest blogger Stephen Sawchuk

That it wasn't going to be an ordinary field trip was apparent from the moment that 12 students from the KIPP Academy of Opportunity in south Los Angeles, plus leaders of the charter school, stepped on to a Metrobus headed downtown to the Lincoln Memorial.

Within minutes of boarding at around 10:15 a.m. today, the 5th through 8th graders were absorbed in a historical novel about George Washington's spies in Revolutionary War, a text keyed to a planned visit to the International Spy Museum here in Washington. Although that particular activity was derailed by a burst pipe at the museum, school director Ian Guidera was undeterred from his goal of ensuring that the students connect every experience here to the lesson he's set for the trip: how to lead, and how to be an agent for change.

Once we reached the Lincoln Memorial, Mr. Guidera taught a short unit exploring the connections between the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and President-elect Barack Obama's speech yesterday on the same steps. It incorporated earlier history, too: Black speakers at the monument's dedication in 1922 were segregated from their white peers, the students learned.

Then it was their turn. "What are you going to do after you go to college?" Mr. Guidera queried.

"What I would like to do is plant more trees and make natural gas for cars, and make newer technology for the world," said Nasser, a 5th grader. (Mr. Guidera had told me on the bus ride that the students were fascinated by D.C.'s transit system after growing up in car-choked Los Angeles.)

Education was also a big one. Elexis, a 7th grader, said she wants to be a lawyer so she can make money and make sure students don't have to share textbooks. Other students said their goal is to improve teaching and have more young professionals enter the field to prevent students of color from dropping out of high school.

I asked Mr. Guidera to surmise why education stood out as an issue for his students.

"[They] understand the status of schools in their communities," he said. "They have friends and family who go to other schools. And they've heard Obama speaking about recruiting an army of new teachers."

Mr. Guidera told me that the trip's itinerary was set by the students themselves, who had to do the research on the sites and events they wanted to include and convince their peers of how those choices tied back to the theme of leadership. Also on this week's list are visits to the National Holocaust Museum, Georgetown and George Washington universities, a photography exhibit on women leaders at the National Geographic Society's headquarters, and even a trip to meet the founder of CakeLove, a popular Washington bakery chain started by an erstwhile lawyer whose leadership and entrepreneurial skills led him to baking and motivational speaking.

What will they learn from him? Find out at the students' own blogs here. Check in tonight and later this week, as they'll surely have lots to say about their adventures.

And on Wednesday, our crackerjack online-media team will have a multimedia package on the KIPP students' visit to Washington, right here at www.edweek.org.

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